Top Hospital Embraces Therapeutic Virtual Reality

A new partnership between Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and AppliedVR will bring virtual reality content to patients in the hospital's orthopedic, spine, and surgery centers.

Kristopher Sturgis

AppliedVR, a leader in virtual reality content, has announced a partnership with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to introduce therapeutic virtual reality content to patients in the hospital's spine, orthopedic, and surgery centers.

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Applied VR worked with doctors from Cedars-Sinai to develop therapeutic virtual reality content that can help patients manage pain and stress.The Pain RelieVR platform helps patients manage pain by offering highly immersive virtual reality games that can shift patients' attention away from medical procedures and recovery processes.

The Anxiety RelieVR, the company's other major platform, offers guided relaxation that will help transport patients from the confines of a typical medical environment to a peaceful and relaxed environment where they can better manage stress and anxiety.

Brennan Spiegel, MD, director of health services research in academic affairs and clinical transformation at Cedars-Sinai, says virtual reality technologies are showing promise as a therapeutic tool.

"Virtual reality is like dreaming with your eyes open," Spiegel says. "As a healthcare provider, I view virtual reality as a compelling technology that opens our imagination to a new class of therapeutic interventions. At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center we have seen firsthand how virtual reality can meaningfully reduce pain scores without any medication or drugs."

Cedars-Sinai will be among the first hospitals to use scalable virtual reality technologies and will implement the AppliedVR pilot programs across several areas, including its orthopedic center, spine center, and department of surgery. The medical center intends to undertake the largest trial of therapeutic virtual reality technologies to date, with plans to make it available to more patients as it gathers data.

"We are initiating a new study to evaluate the benefits of virtual reality in hospitalized patients," Spiegel says. "It will be the largest randomized controlled trial of virtual reality to date. We will test whether providing a 'library' of virtual reality content to patients can improve their pain, reduce their need for opioids, reduce their length of stay, and improve satisfaction with care versus a control population."

Virtual reality technologies have slowly been making their way into the medtech realm, as manufacturers begin to explore a number of different medical applications. There are a bevy of different emerging virtual reality technologies like the Oculus Rift and zSpace that have been designed to not only treat patients, but help enhance education in medicine as well.

Most of these technologies are still in the early stages of development, as researchers continue to study the effects of virtual reality technologies from a therapeutic standpoint. Spiegel says that's one of the main goals behind Cedars-Sinai's initiative with AppliedVR as the two work together to better understand the potentials of virtual reality technologies in healthcare.

"Our focus now is on validating both existing and new visualizations for patient care," he says. "We need to formally study the benefits of these virtual reality experiences one by one. Right now it's sort of a Wild West, with lots of people doing small studies that are uncontrolled or inadequately controlled. If we think of virtual reality as a therapy, then we need a 'VR Pharmacy' of evidence-based therapies that clinicians can use with their patients. We are working with AppliedVR to create this pharmacy for patients at Cedars-Sinai and beyond." 

Kristopher Sturgis is a contributor to Qmed.

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